Not the hammock you swing in, plus bird #216

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Hey, let’s go for a walk!

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Pet leashed, we set off into the Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, reached via the dirt road Jungle Trail along the Indian River Lagoon in Vero Beach.

If you move to Florida and you like venturing into the outdoors beyond your pool, patio and probably-tiny backyard, you quickly learn that “hammock” isn’t just that nice thing to laze around in…

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(The Dream, 1844, by Gustave Courbet, from Wikipedia hammock)

A hammock is also a term for a landscape feature. Think “hummock” but bigger.

 Hammock is a term used in the southeastern United States for stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem. Hammocks grow on elevated areas, often just a few inches high, surrounded by wetlands that are too wet to support them.

It can be a nice place for a walk too, if there are trails.

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In this hammock the first living creature we got a good look at was this Zebra Longwing.

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They are notable for their long life (compared to other butterflies) and their consumption not just of nectar but of protein-packed pollen too… and the two things seem to be connected.

Zebra Longwings live an unusually long life, and can survive more than a month as adults rather than the typical 1–2 weeks as most butterflies. This is partly because they ingest pollen as well as nectar, giving the Longwings an extra source of protein.

(Inspired, I added whey powder to my breakfast smoothie while writing this blog post.)

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This 110-acre preserve is owned by Indian River County.

The Preserve contains one of the largest remaining coastal maritime hammocks on Orchid Island. The site was home to Captain Frank Forster, one of the first Orchid Island residents who homesteaded on the barrier island growing winter vegetables and fishing along the Indian River Lagoon.

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Water and dry land were close together in the preserve, as is true in most of Florida… especially in the wet season.

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The ubiquitous saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, with its fan-shaped fronds.

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I almost didn’t post about this walk because this is a bird blog and we didn’t really see many birds that day, despite what we were promised. 153 species have been sighted at this eBird hotspot… by others.

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But I decided to share the photos anyway because of the unique habitat. We found great examples of native plants that are recommended for planting in your Florida yard to support birds, like the beautiful American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana.

From the Florida Wildflower Foundation

American beautyberry is a woody shrub found in pinelands and hammocks throughout Florida. The plant’s foliage offers cover for small wildlife. Its flowers are a nectar source for butterflies and bees, while its dense clusters of berries provide food for birds and deer in late summer and fall.

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I also posted because of this fuzzy photo, which I would normally discard but it’s the only image of a new-to-me bird.  We spotted it oddly walking along – not hopping, like most little birds – in the leaf litter.

It’s an Ovenbird! (Confirmed on What’s This Bird, my favorite online double-check and bird identification crutch.)

The Ovenbird‘s rapid-fire teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests from the Mid-Atlantic states to northeastern British Columbia. It’s so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. Its olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the leaf litter. Its nest, a leaf-covered dome resembling an old-fashioned outdoor oven, gives the Ovenbird its name.

It wasn’t singing, just quietly foraging here in what may be its winter home. Are the snowbirds returning already?

The Ovenbird is species #216 for this blog.

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John goes ahead. We were the only people on the trails for an hour that morning. Good heeling, Radar.

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Another favorite bird-friendly native plant, Wild Coffee, with the somewhat disturbing Latin name Psychotria nervosa.

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Trees were mostly live oaks and cabbage palms.

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Partridge pea, a wildflower and legume that tolerates poor soil and feeds butterfly larvae. And provides pretty color along the trail, eye food for humans.

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More Beautyberry.

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Berry time for Wild Coffee. But don’t get too excited about harvesting your own morning cuppa.

Shiny-leaved wild coffee, Psychotria nervosa, is in the same plant family as the stuff you find at Starbucks, but so are at least 5,999 other plants. There are something like 103 species of coffee worldwide, but only three are used to make a cup of Joe. This is not one of the three.

You can indeed make a beverage from wild coffee berries but it A) won’t taste good, B) won’t resemble coffee and C) will lack any caffeine kick. Might even give you a headache.

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Almost the color of the wild coffee berries: a Northern Cardinal. We noticed a few males but couldn’t spot the females. Kinda the whole cardinal idea.

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We were surprised to find quite a few citrus trees in one part of the woods. Probably leftover from some old groves, maybe even old Cap’n Forster’s?

I believe the historic Jungle Trail was a dirt road originally built to connect the citrus growers in the 1920s on Orchard Island/ Vero Beach.

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John tasted one. He rated it “not that great.”

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Hello again, cardinal.

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From Wild South Florida

They’re common anywhere you might care to go, deep into the woods, around town and all points in between as long as there are bushes or thickets to provide cover. Florida even has its own subspecies, C. cardinalis ssp. floridanus, found throughout most of the state.

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Orange butterfly, maybe a Gulf Fritillary?

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We were here.

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Here’s the online version, much more readable: Special Places on the Trail & Lagoon.

An hour north of home, we will return to explore along the Jungle Trail one day again soon.

Green River grackle-watching

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We call this place Green River. It’s a series of retention ponds on the west side of Green River Parkway in Jensen Beach, just before Martin County turns into St. Lucie County. On the other side of the road is the quieter southern part of Savannas Preserve State Park.

It’s a great spot to walk the dog… now that he is trained enough not to take himself swimming with the alligators.

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Autumn color! The cypress trees are turning.

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Near the trees I spotted a grackle among the lily pads.

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A bird so shiny in the morning sun.

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I watched this bird for a little while. It’s a male Boat-tailed Grackle, confirmed on Facebook’s What’s This Bird. I don’t feel 100% confident on the difference between BTGs and Common Grackles so I doublechecked my guess.

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This fine shiny fellow was walking across the lily pads, sometimes turning them over to look underneath.

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Another grackle nearby was also inspecting the bounty of potential nourishment to be found in these freshwater wetlands.

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Read up: On the Origin of Really Shiny Species, at Nat Geo.

Shinier means healthier. This bird is eating well, I’d say.

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Read up some more: eBird Grackles – are you getting them right?

The most range-restricted of the three, Boat-tailed Grackles are very much linked to tidewater, spending their lives near coastal salt marshes; they rarely occur more than a few hundred meters from water across much of their range. The exception to this rule is Florida, where the species occurs inland throughout the peninsula, essentially side-by-side with Common Grackle in many places.

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Let’s see what’s under here.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

Boat-tailed Grackles are large, lanky songbirds with rounded crowns, long legs, and fairly long, pointed bills. Males have very long tails that make up almost half their body length and that they typically hold folded in a V-shape, like the keel of a boat.

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Boat-tailed Grackles eat arthropods, crustaceans, mollusks, frogs, turtles, lizards, grain, seeds, fruit, and tubers. Inveterate scavengers and pirates, they also take food from humans, domestic animals, and other birds. They usually forage out in the open, in a wide variety of habitats that include floating mats, mudflats, beaches, roadsides, parking lots, dumps, cultivated fields, and cattle feedlots. They walk slowly over the ground or in shallow water, pecking or probing at soil, litter, or low vegetation. They often overturn debris, stones, and shells with their bills. In aquatic habitats they stand still and cock their heads to watch the water with one eye, then plunge their heads below the surface. They can pry open mussel shells and eat snails by forcing an opening between the tissue and the shell. Boat-tailed Grackles often dunk foods like bread, rice, and dog food in water before eating them.

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Audubon…

Forages mostly near water, by walking on shore or in shallow water, catching items with rapid thrusts of its bill. Sometimes steals food from larger birds. Will enter heron colonies to feed on unguarded eggs.

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The Boat-tailed Grackle is Quiscalus major.

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The avian genus Quiscalus contains six of the ten species of grackle, gregarious passerine birds in the icterid family. They are native to North and South America.

The genus was introduced by the French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1816. The type species was subsequently designated as the common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) by the English zoologist George Robert Gray in 1840. The genus name comes from the specific name Gracula quiscula coined by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus for the common grackle. From where Linnaeus obtained the word is uncertain but it may come from the Carib word Quisqueya meaning “mother of all lands”, for the island of Hispaniola.

(Incidentally, here are 12 English words derived from the Carib language, including cay, hammock, hurricane and savannah.)

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They are members of the Icterid or blackbird family, in the order Passeriformes or perching birds.

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He really manages to keep his big tail from dragging in the water.

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This active, searching bird, so bright in the morning sunlight, was a joy to watch.

Blue house, blue jays

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Back to the bird blog! I haven’t posted in a while; I’ve missed bird watching.

We’ve been busy remodeling a vintage 1987 house – new windows, siding, kitchen, bathrooms, floors, doors, trim, interior layout, pool, patios, landscape, paint – but now we’ve finished and moved in. (The house color is Sherwin-Williams “Cay.”)

It’s just half a mile from our old house (now sold) in the lovely peninsular town of Sewall’s Point, but bigger, on slightly larger property, and with a pool (ah!)

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Most notable bird life at our new house, at least at this time of year: Blue Jays. There seems to be an extended family in the neighborhood. They spend a lot of time in the laurel oaks in our front and side yards. I am finding half eaten acorns on the front pathway and driveway.

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They come around and watch us when we are outside, especially when I’m watering the new landscape plants in the front yard.

We planted wildlife-friendly natives on a berm under the oak trees, including wax myrtle, firebush, fakahatchee grass and one of my favorite Florida plants, saw palmetto. The backyard needs some more plants along the fence, for privacy and wildlife.

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The jays are curious about us, and like to hang around nearby, though it’s not always that easy to get a picture of them. I get the sense they are smart enough to know how visible they are to us.

More pics from Wakodahatchee

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Great Egret at Wakodahatchee.

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Looking down from the boardwalk we could see a Purple Gallinule.

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Lurking in the marshes of the extreme southeastern U.S. lives one of the most vividly colored birds in all of North America. Purple Gallinules combine cherry red, sky blue, moss green, aquamarine, indigo, violet, and school-bus yellow, a color palette that blends surprisingly well with tropical and subtropical wetlands. Watch for these long-legged, long-toed birds stepping gingerly across water lilies and other floating vegetation as they hunt frogs and invertebrates or pick at tubers.

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Blue frontal shield with a yellow-tipped red bill, very colorful!

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Look for Purple Gallinules in dense freshwater wetlands in the extreme southeastern U.S. and farther south—sites that have both emergent and submerged vegetation such as water lilies, lotus, water hyacinth, and hydrilla. They can be fairly easy to spot as they walk on floating vegetation.

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Wood Stork on a nest.

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Nice view of nesting birds from this gazebo.

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Wakodahatchee in nesting season

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Hey, Cattle Egret… it’s time for your makeover…

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Oh you sexy thing!

First photo was taken last fall. Second photo was taken a couple of days ago at the amazing and renowned Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. It was our first visit during nesting season and there was LOTS to see. I took a thousand photos, for real. I will be posting some of the good ones over a few days.

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I had noticed a bit of buff coloring on breeding Cattle Egrets before but never have I seen the candy corn bill and purple “lores” just in front of the eyes. Eyes are a different color too!

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A boardwalk through the wetlands gets you closer to the birds.

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This female Anhinga is also in breeding plumage with a blue ring around her eyes and a greenish tinge to her lores. Her chin is black too.

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She let me stand right next to her and take this glamour shot.

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Hello, bird.

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Glossy Ibis chick!

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Chubby and fluffy like chick, but with a bit of ibis curve to the (striped) bill already.

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Great Egret chicks watches the skies for the return of mom/ dad.

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I played hide-and-seek with a Green Heron.

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Black-bellied Whistling Duck at rest.

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They have longer legs than you might guess.

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Another a water’s edge.

 

The latest from Bird Island

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Story time at Bird Island, it looks like.

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Wood Storks together.

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We watched from a boat.

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Roseate Spoonbill comes on the scene.

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Audubon

Very common in parts of the southeast until the 1860s, spoonbills were virtually eliminated from the United States as a side-effect of the destruction of wader colonies by plume hunters. Began to re-colonize Texas and Florida early in 20th century. Still uncommon and local, vulnerable to degradation of feeding and nesting habitats.

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They have a darker pink sort of epaulet on their shoulders.

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View from the top of the mangroves, with Brown Pelicans too.

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Juvenile Magnificent Frigatebirds and one male off to the left.

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Spoonbill on Bird Island beach.

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Brown Pelican with fuzzy chicks.

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Frigatebirds and a couple of cormorants. The northwest corner of the island is their territory.

Warblers are passing through

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Mixed flocks of migrating warblers graced us with their presence these past few days.

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It was easy to learn this one a few years ago: American Redstart, so boldly black and orange.

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This Black-throated Blue Warbler isn’t too hard to see because it visits lower shrubbery down near eye level.

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Northern Parula was curious and stayed right in a neighbor’s tree while I shot a few pics.

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I heard this bird before I saw it. Its song is a “rising buzzy trill with a final sharp note”.

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All the warblers in this post are males, easier to spot because of colors and sounds.

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Cornell …

The key to finding a Northern Parula during the breeding season is to look for forests draped with long, wispy plants like Spanish moss and “old man’s beard.” Northern Parulas tend to stick to the canopy, which means you may end up with a bit of “warbler neck.” Luckily during migration they also forage lower in the forest giving your neck a break. Parulas sing a lot during migration—so listen up for their distinctive buzzy trill.

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Cape May Warbler. I’ve seen them before but needed an ID doublecheck from What’s This Bird. I guess I haven’t gotten this bird into long-term memory yet. That’s one negative to my method of taking a bunch of photos then IDing the birds using online sources.

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Must learn my warblers.

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Looking up at a warbler… butt.

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The Cape May Warbler breeds across the boreal forest of Canada and the northern United States, where the fortunes of its populations are largely tied to the availability of spruce budworms, its preferred food. Striking in appearance but poorly understood, the species spends its winters in the West Indies, collecting nectar with its unique curled, semitubular tongue.

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These four species of warblers I managed to photograph for this post all winter in the Caribbean. I wonder if they traveled together the whole way?

Audubon.org: Flyways of the Americas. The Black-throated Blue Warbler is featured for the Atlantic Flyway.

Crows v. hawk

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A Red-tailed Hawk was perched atop our Norfolk Island pine a couple of days ago.

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Some wings!

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It was being harried by the neighborhood Fish Crows and finally lifted off.

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Crows seem pretty territorial at this time of year.

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I was out in the driveway with my camera, watching.

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Some sanderlings I saw

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I walked from Santa Lucea Beach almost to the House of Refuge.

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Busy beach Saturday, not a lot of parking left along the southern end of Hutchinson Island. Lots of people.

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I focused on the peeps.

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Sanderlings running.

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Sanderling feeding.

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Sanderling at rest.

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Ring-billed Gull (second winter?)

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Brown Pelicans were fishing.

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Dive.

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Sanderling loaf.

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Sanderlings three.

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A little bird and shelly grains of sand.

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Ruddy Turnstone bathing in a tide pool.

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Ruddy Turnstone rocks.

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Heading south towards House of Refuge.

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Camo.